Tech Sector Leads the Lobbying Charge for Immigration Reform

There are a few reasons for that. The American workforce is both graying and shrinking, according to a 2012 report by The Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-reform coalition formed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In addition, the growth rate of U.S. students majoring in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is among the lowest in any academic area, the report says.

That's a big part of why an expansion of STEM visas has become a focus of tech lobbying efforts.

The issue of tech and science visas has become one of the rare areas of immigration reform to receive broad support from both Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) underscored the consensus on tech visas in a January interview with The Wall Street Journal, saying, "I don't think there's a lot of concern in this country that we'll somehow get overrun by Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs."

Many tech companies, however, have also backed the push for a wider immigration reform effort, including a comprehensive package that could contain provisions like a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants or increased spending on border security. Fitz said the support is for both practical and humanitarian purposes.

"From a tactical perspective, this is their best chance in the short-term to get the reforms they care most about," such as more STEM visas and temporary workers, he said. "But [tech companies] also made it very clear that while that's where their interests lie, they also really believe this broader immigration reform is good for the country."

One of the most visible tech leaders stumping for reform is Steve Case, the co-founder and former CEO of America Online (AOL). Last week, he testified before a Senate committee on immigration reform, calling for an expansion of tech worker visas, but also supporting legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

While both Republicans and Democrats back the addition of visas for tech workers and entrepreneurs, the two parties haven't approached the issue in the same way. In the past, some Republicans have pushed for a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, where a bill related to tech visas might be voted on separately from other issues. Democrats want a comprehensive bill, and won't likely pass legislation related to the tech industry without a broader package of reforms.

That's helped thrust the tech sector, with deep pockets and a high need, into the middle of the country's immigration debate. Bruce Mehlman, the executive director of the Technology CEO Council, which includes the heads of companies like Intel, Qualcomm, IBM, and Dell, says that tech companies will play an important role as negotiations move forward.

"It's going to take a broad bipartisan compromise," he said. "Both sides are going to have to give a little bit on the extremely tough issues. And the tech industry is putting its energy behind that effort for the good of the nation."

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